Belfast Telegraph

From Lisburn Youth to Wembley for Portsmouth star Wilson

By Frank Brownlow

Nigel Worthington will get a feeling of deja vu when he watches tomorrow’s FA Cup final.

The Northern Ireland boss saw Darron Gibson lift the Carling Cup with Manchester United earlier this season.

Tomorrow Marc Wilson should be in the Portsmouth team that takes on Chelsea.

Both could have played for Northern Ireland — both chose the Republic of Ireland instead.

Wilson (22) grew up in Aghagallon near Lurgan, playing for his local GAA club as a youngster while developing his skills in the other code with Lisburn Youth, one of the top football nurseries in the country.

Wilson was an outstanding prospect in both sport, but plumped for soccer when Portsmouth came calling and has gone on to make a name for himself with the south coast outfit.

After playing much of the season in central defence, Wilson has gone on to establish himself as a holding midfielder — his preferred position — and become an outstanding performer, playing a key role in Portsmouth’s 2-0 FA Cup semi-final extra-time win over Spurs at Wembley.

“I've actually played there my whole life, that's my proper position and I'm enjoying playing there again,” said Wilson, who was in the squad, but didn’t play, when Pompey won the FA Cup two years ago.

But Wilson is expected to be a pivotal figure tomorrow against newly crowned league champions Chelsea.

“Chelsea are a great team. They are one of the best teams in England, if not the best,” he said.

“We are delighted that we have made it this far. It's a huge achievement to get to the final. We have to carry on in the same way we have been going so far. It's been a fantastic run.

“Chelsea are a good side, but so are Spurs — and no-one gave us a chance of beating them.

“The manager, Avram Grant, has been tremendous. He's done a great job, given everyone confidence. He's not a man of a lot of words, but he talks a lot of sense. He's very knowledgeable about the game.

“He's a very positive man and I think that is reflected in the way we've been playing the game. It rubs off on all the player.”

Portsmouth have been relegated from the Premier League amid financial turmoil, suffering a points deduction in the process, but Wilson may not end up in the Championship having been linked with big-money moves to Fulham, Sunderland and newly promoted Newcastle United.

“We're disappointed to be in the place we're in, at the bottom of the table. We feel we don’t deserve to be there,” said Wilson.

Lisburn Youth chairman Colin Caswell was one of Wilson’s coaches before he left to join Portsmouth.

“We had Marc here from about the age of 11 and he just got better and better every year,” said Caswell.

“He comes from a good family and always had respect for his coaches and other kids.

“Despite his ability, he was never cocky. He was always very well mannered.

“I always felt Marc had a great chance of making it, but when any kid from here goes across the water you have to hope that they don’t get homesick.

“Sometimes kids go away, get lonely and just come home again.

“It’s nice when you see a kid like Marc really doing well.

“I have never saw a kid that could head a ball like Marc could.

“He was so strong, even at 11 years of age and had a great footballing brain.

“When you gave a team talk, Marc always listened intently. When other kids were watching aeroplanes flying across the sky, Marc would be looking you in the eye and listening to what you were saying.

“He was like that from the day he arrived at the club to the day he left.

“Marc was also at the Manchester United Centre of Excellence as a kid and he had the choice of a

few different clubs, but Portsmouth have a very good reputation for bringing young players through so he chose to go there and it’s worked out well for him.

“Everyone at Lisburn Youth who knew Marc will be glued to the television watching the FA Cup final.

“It’s a great boost for our club and we’ll all have our fingers crossed for him.

“Lisburn Youth have built up a good reputation over the years.

“Lots of our lads have made it with clubs across the water, but the bottom line is that we want kids to enjoy their football.

“We don’t pressure kids, we don’t have coaches bawling at them, there aren’t people going mad on the touchline — we’re not into all that nonsense. It’s all about enjoyment., but we must be doing something right. Eight or nine of the starting 11 in a recent Northern Ireland match had started out with Lisburn Youth.

“Many of Northern Ireland’s top players in recent years have played for us — David Healy, Aaron Hughes, Damien Johnson and Keith Gillespie.”

Wilson won’t be joining that elite list of course — much to Nigel Worthington’s annoyance.

Belfast Telegraph

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